What makes a great scientist?
According to Science magazine, great scientists are persistent. They have a positive mental attitude. They look at problems from unique directions. They don’t blindly accept facts without exploring them on their own. They have a single-mindedness, and they love what they do.
These are many of the same traits we see in children with complex challenges, such as autism.
The good folks at Dell see it too -- which is why they’ve made it their mission to hire a neurodiverse workforce. Dell believes that many people with autism have innate talents that make them excellent engineers, programmers and designers -- traits like the ability to hyperfocus for long periods of time, an attention to detail, and the ability to come back to a task time and time again.
As Albert Einstein said, “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.”
Here at The Quaker School at Horsham, we could not agree more. We’ve seen students with significant difficulty communicating with and relating to other people achieve amazing scholarship in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. (In fact, the interests and talents of our students was the genesis of our Research & Design Laboratory and program.)
So as a parent or friend of a child with complex challenges, how do you help nurture this innate ability in STEM?
Here are three fun and easy ways to help your budding scientist bloom this spring season:
#1: Explore the world up (really) close.
Have a child who is reluctant to go outside? Give them a magnifying glass and watch that change. Does your child prefer their objects of study far away? Hand them a pair of binoculars.
Depending on their personalities, kids can keep sketchbooks or take lab notes. Observation, while being fun, also encourages spoken vocabulary (if they describe what they are seeing), endurance, and patience.
#2: Learn empathy through the eyes of a cobra.
Taking your child to a zoo or nature center is a wonderful way to learn empathy. Challenge them to see the world through the eyes of a vulture or an ant, and to describe what they are seeing.
TQS takes our students on field trips to the nearby Churchville Nature Center, and my own children love it. For longer road trips, the Maritime Aquarium in Norwalk, Conn., and Bronx Zoo in New York are my all-time favorites. Or, just find a critter in your own yard or a nearby park.
#3: Throw slimes.
On any nice day with a few free hours, my wife and I take our children Pearl and Eli to a nearby park to throw slimes. They take sticks, scoop slime off the park’s pond, and throw the slime back into the pond.
Who-can-make-the-biggest-splat competitions are a great way for me to teach them about turtles, physics, the water cycle, and the importance of clean water. “Let's go to the park and learn about velocity” wouldn’t get me very far, but “Hey, let's go throw slimes” works every time.
All of these activities encourage vocabulary, occupational therapy skills and endurance, and they connect school work to real life -- all while getting your child out of the house and off their screens while developing a lifelong love of science.
Do you have other ideas for fostering a love of science in your child with complex challenges? Add them to the comments below, or join our discussion on our Facebook page!